By Dan Steadman
Originally published on Advocate.com June 22 2012 6:03 AM ET
One cliché about homosexuals I warmly embrace is that of us being a hospitable people. My mother, a Baptist pastor’s wife, showed us how to treat guests visiting our home. We used to change the sheets, roll fresh towels, place a mint on the pillow, and fill a vase with flowers snatched from the neighbors’ window boxes while they were sleeping.
On a recent business trip to Nashville, I thought it might be nice to stay with my friend Ed and his partner, Darren, instead of booking a motel. My dad raised our family of six on 30 grand a year. Occasionally we’d hit the road so he could speak to Midwest churches about the evils of teenage dancing and homosexuality. Motels were a luxury when traveling. If we stayed in one, it usually had some form of the word economy worked into its name. Thirty bucks got you free HBO, which my parents promptly blocked, and an indoor pool, where my sisters promptly peed. On the plus side, the Econo staff provided the ubiquitous continental breakfast, which included a basket of grapefruit and oatmeal as binding as a dried-up used condom.
After years of adult life, I now appreciate the joys of motels – and occasionally even a hotel. But staying with a gay couple seemed fun, perhaps even nicer than a motel, so I called up my old work buddy.
“Su-u-ure,” Ed said with uncertainty in his voice. This confused me. A year ago I helped pack boxes in Ed’s living room and he had specifically said, “Dan, if you’re ever in the Nashville area, please come stay with us.” I had taken him at his word, just as I do the Lord. The problem is, I don’t think Ed’s mousy lover, Darren, ever liked me.
Ed greeted me at the door with a hug. Darren was cordial, but not elated by my presence.
When my friend suggested we go out for dinner, his partner peeked at the wall clock. 7:40. “I’m not sure anything will be open. By the time we get there, it’ll be 8,” Darren frowned, paralyzing an expression that would remain on his face for the rest of my stay. Ed suggested that special pizza place they frequented every year on their anniversary. “Fine,” Darren concurred.
Seated at an Italian dive owned and operated by three Finnish gals, we split a medium mushroom pizza. Ed and I swapped stories of our days in retail. We recalled the rude and nasty customers we used to serve. We remembered the sweet ones we loved. We gossiped about our former colleagues and shared a lot of laughs. Darren sat and picked the mushrooms from his slice. “You know what?” Ed said, seizing the bill, “I think this one’s on us.” Darren rolled his eyes and mumbled something indecipherable. “Are you sure? You don’t have to,” I said. Ed gave the waitress $12. “Tell you what, you leave the tip and we’ll call it even,” he answered.
We were home by 9:30 and Darren made it understood that socializing time was over. I was shown to the guest room. “I vacuumed in here,” Ed said. “And Darren moved his sewing machine.”
“Thanks,” I said, giving a swift yank to the hide-a-bed that wanted to remain that way. Ed left to find bedding. I tried and tried to open the couch. It was becoming crystal clear that my presence was an imposition on this dullsville same-sex couple. I had interrupted their routine. Ed had paid for my pizza and Darren had moved his damn sewing machine. I heard the shower in the adjoining bathroom. Darren was obviously washing my evil from his freckled, pale skin. Ed entered and handed me a set of sheets. “Here goes,” he said. “All set?”
I swear to God/Judge Judy it was 20 degrees in their house. Ed explained that they didn’t run the heat until mid December to keep the electric bill reasonable. Shivering, I asked for, maybe ... like ... a blanket or something. My friend looked like I had asked him for something very specific, like a nine-inch springform cake pan. “Uhhhhh, I’ll ask Darren,” was his response. He ran to the bathroom door and asked his partner where the blankets were kept. Minutes later he returned with a thin, pathetic throw. I thanked him and said goodnight. He went to his bedroom, where he crawled under a mass of down-filled quilts. I, on the other hand, shuttered from the bitter temperature. Near the window, a draft invaded the room, making the cold colder. I lay on the bed and pulled the sheet over me. The throw was about four feet by four feet — perfect for Chelsea Handler’s sidekick Chuy. What kind of gay hospitality was this?
When the clock turned to 3 a.m., my lips were blue from frostbite. I tried masturbating to an Ikea catalog, just to work up a sweat. When that didn’t work out as planned, I took everything in my suitcase and tried to layer up — two undershirts, three pairs of socks, and khakis pulled over a pair of jeans. I even wore the wide part of my tie around my neck as a scarf. Still, I was freezing, so I opened the closet looking for something to warm me up. There were no space heaters to be found, but I hit the jackpot with an old commitment ceremony gift — an iron still in the original box. I plugged it into the wall, pressing it against my inner thighs for warmth. It was wonderful getting my vitals back. I finally got sleepy and unplugged it. Within minutes I went back to being freezing cold. I thought about plugging the iron back in and igniting a house fire, dreaming of the warmth it would provide.
Wide awake again, I went back to the storage closet looking for any kind of cloth – beach towels, rubber raincoats, old doilies – anything I could lay over my body. Sadly, there wasn’t one piece of fabric to be found, save a bridal gown wrapped in plastic with a label reading what must have been Darren’s mother’s name.
I learned a disheartening lesson the next morning. Sometimes homosexuals do not live up to our positive stereotypes. Some have never learned the art of hospitality from Colin Cowie or Nate Berkus. Some don’t know to provide a comfortable experience for visiting travelers. Some are downright rude when, for example, they walk into their guest’s room and find him warm and cozy, his lower body wrapped in a white vintage family heirloom.
I will never forget Darren’s cries. For someone so tightly wound and conservative, he sure knew how to cuss. Ed eventually forgave me but made it crystal clear we’d be better off as distant Facebook friends.
DAN STEADMAN has an upcoming gay-themed Christmas movie, Red Lodge, which you can learn more about at Circa87.com.